Workplace Design

Coffee mug and open notebook on a wooden desk

My team is moving back from open to private offices, so it’s an opportune time to find inspiration for the new space. There are all sorts of studies about collaboration and productivity level in open space vs closed offices, but Joel Spolsky and Anil Dash from Stack Overflow and Fog Creek have perspectives from the lens of software engineers that still hold nearly fifteen years later.

Office space seems to be the one thing that nobody can get right and nobody can do anything about. There’s a ten year lease, and whenever the company moves the last person anybody asks about how to design the space is the manager of the software team, who finds out what his new veal-fattening pens, uh, cubicle farm is going to be like for the first time on the Monday after the move-in.

Well, it’s my own damn company and I can do something about it, so I did.

Bionic Office by Joel Spolsky

Mindset

Building great office space for software developers serves two purposes: increased productivity, and increased recruiting pull. Private offices with doors that close prevent programmers from interruptions allowing them to concentrate on code without being forced to stop and listen to every interesting conversation in the room. And the nice offices wow our job candidates, making it easier for us to attract, hire, and retain the great developers we need to make software profitably. It’s worth it, especially in a world where so many software jobs provide only the most rudimentary and depressing cubicle farms.

The New Fog Creek Office by Joel Spolsky

Just take a look at the long list of requirements for the office space:

  • Gobs of well-lit perimeter offices
  • Desks designed for programming
  • Glass whiteboards
  • Coffee bar and lunchroom
  • A huge salt water aquarium
  • Plenty of meeting space
  • A library
  • A shower
  • Wood floors, carpet, concrete

The link to photos of the space is broken, but not because the space didn’t work out; Joel’s ideas on workplace design outlasted Picasa. Luckily the NYTimes article on the Fog Creek office still has a few thumbnail sized images. Plus street view is still a thing.

They used bold, playful colors and bright common areas to foster in-the-trenches camaraderie and created private soundproof offices where the programmers can go to get their jobs done.

A Software Designer Knows His Office Space, Too via NYTimes

Spolsky wanted a space designed intentionally for deep work and collaboration, and he put a considerable amount of thought to ensure he built a productive environment for the people at Fog Creek. It paid off.

Results

Spolsky has a treasure trove of knowledge on his blog that spills out amongst others on his team. The rich history is pervasive across those he influences.

With a private office, you’re in control of your space and attention: you can choose when to close the door and avoid interruptions, and when to go play ping-pong, talk with coworkers or work out of the coffee bar. In an open office you’re at the mercy of the people around you: if they’re talking, the best you can do is crank up your headphones and hope to drown them out, and if they’re playing foosball then good luck.

Everybody has their own rhythm. People come in at different times, take breaks at different times, need to socialize at different times, and have their most productive hours at different times. Management’s job is to accommodate that and create a space where all those conflicting needs don’t congeal into a persistent hum of distraction — not to enforce some top-down ideal of openness and creativity. Private offices put the people who do the actual work in control.

Why We (Still) Believe in Private Offices by David Fullerton

Fullerton’s post shows how teams can create a “magnificent culture of non-distraction” by using technology to keep people in control of how they work. At first, the idea typing out a chat, going back and forth seems less efficient than tapping someone on the shoulder for help, but leveraging technology as a tool to help people stay in the flow actually makes sense.

Whenever we get a new hire in the office, I make it a point to sit down with them in their first week and explain that they should not go to someone’s office when they have a question. Instead, ping them in chat and then jump on a hangout. The result is exactly the sort of culture that open offices are supposed to promote but better:

  • If someone else sees the message, they can chime in with the answer
  • If someone else is interested in the discussion, they can jump onto the hangout
  • And, crucially, if someone is working heads-down and doesn’t want to be distracted, all they have to do is close the chat window.

But what about marketing and design? And how about expanding teams?

We don’t actually even give everyone private offices: some people are doubled up in offices, and the sales and marketing teams sit in larger open spaces because they feel that’s an important part of how they work.

Evolution

Putting employees first is always at the heart of how we create great places to work.

In 2017 Fog Creek moved to it’s fourth headquarters (1, 2, 3, 4). They could have recreated a bigger version of their office 3.0, but instead they reflected on their team dynamic and arrived at a design that allows people to work in a variety of ways. With a largely remote workforce and a larger percentage of people in non-technical roles, Anil Dash (Fog Creek CEO as of December 2016) understood the existing office design could be enhanced.

The new office also includes a variety of work spaces that accommodate different work modes. Anil mentioned personal offices for standalone work, but they also work well for collaborative work like pair programming. There are workstations for independent or individual co-working, and phone booths for external communication such as sales calls or podcast appearances. There’s also our conference room — known as the “quiet car” — which can be used across a number of different work modes. And true to the nature of our office being flexible and experimental, we are already re-configuring some of these spaces based on how we use them.

Beyond Open Offices: The New Fog Creek Headquarters by Maurice Cherry

Fog Creek treats their office like any other product they produce. With Spolsky at the helm, the company researched best designs, planned with it’s people in mind, built it’s ideal vision, and iterated on the product, improving with each new update.

As the company has grown and changed over the years, so has our office space. Joel’s grand visions for what a work environment should do for employees have been part of Fog Creek from the very beginning, and we have tried to honor that legacy. We also have plenty of plans for the future, and look forward to continuing our tradition of incubating new teams and ideas from within our company and beyond.

Inspiration

For those of you looking to revitalize your open space or bring the aesthetics of open plan spaces to a private office from Design Milk 2017 Where I Work Year in Review. Since these aren’t Fog Creek offices, the productivity may not be at the same level, but they look cool.

All the links

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

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Week in Review – October 1, 2017

An old bike and a sleeping dog next to a wooden fence

Read

The Handmaid’s Tale (no, don’t just watch the show)

Write

Book or blog? Unfinished and developing thoughts fit best in a blog. Plus one can use WordPress and Stripe for subscriber payments.

https://stratechery.com/2017/books-and-blogs/

Because aggregators deal with digital goods, there is an abundance of supply; that means users reap value through discovery and curation, and most aggregators get started by delivering superior discovery.

Then, once an aggregator has gained some number of end users, suppliers will come onto the aggregator’s platform on the aggregator’s terms, effectively commoditizing and modularizing themselves. Those additional suppliers then make the aggregator more attractive to more users, which in turn draws more suppliers, in a virtuous cycle.

This means that for aggregators, customer acquisition costs decrease over time; marginal customers are attracted to the platform by virtue of the increasing number of suppliers. This further means that aggregators enjoy winner-take-all effects: since the value of an aggregator to end users is continually increasing it is exceedingly difficult for competitors to take away users or win new ones.

https://stratechery.com/2017/defining-aggregators/

Sleep

This article was popular this week: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Why do we sleep less?

We electrified the night, and light is a profound degrader of our sleep.

There is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead.

We have stigmatized sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honor.

You should sleep more

I give myself a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity every night, and I keep very regular hours: if there is one thing I tell people, it’s to go to bed and to wake up at the same time every day, no matter what.

Hey, you know who else says that? Ray Dalio. He says it helps keep an even keel.

Take away?

Need to wake up at 7. Go to sleep at 11 sharp. Recently, 11 PM turns to 11:45, so 7 AM becomes 7:30.

Speak

Here be Sermons from Melting Asphalt

Thoughts

Is a blog a sermon or a lecture? Does the faceless audience denote a congregation or group of individuals?

Suppose Feynman’s physics lectures were never recorded, and you were (somehow) the only person in attendance as he was delivering them. In other words, he’s lecturing to an audience of one. Well, you might feel sad for everyone else who’s missing out — but at least you’ll learn some things, and Feynman is probably happy to teach you. (It might even be a competitive advantage for you to learn directly from the master

How does aggregation theory apply to sermons?

Moral communities often benefit from upholding a so-called meta-norm: an injunction to punish anyone who doesn’t punish others for their transgressions. As you can imagine, this kind of recursive rule requires commensurately recursive knowledge in order to get off the ground.

Ride

Best Electric Bikes 2017
Copenhagen Wheel on The Verge
Rad Power Bikes

Week in Review – August 27, 2017

Eclipse 2K17!

Tech & Programming

Books & Reading

Disney’s Choice

Stratechery

Vertical companies like Apple achieve profits by selling differentiated goods at high margins. Horizontal companies like Google, on the other hand, achieve profits through scale, which by extension means being free (or as low cost as possible) is more important than being the “best”; the brilliance of Google’s model, of course, is that having more users, and thus more data, means it is the best as well.

Epic of Gilgamesh

Wikipedia page

This story is over 4000 years old but was only discovered in 1853. Time deteriorated the tablets and filtered the text to what we have today. The story is about King Gilgamesh of Uruk and his quest to beat death, but what amazed me was the insight it gave to the scale of humanity at the time the story was written (my thoughts were influenced from just reading Sapiens). If all stories were kept on multiple tablets of similar size, where are all the others? What happened in the 4000 years that we never decided to make another copy? Today, it seems the internet will preserve all we create for the foreseeable future, so Gilgamesh will live on.

Everything Else

CinemaSins

CinemaSins is great for screening movies of questionable quality without investing the entire 2 hours on a rotten tomato (but the Kong director doesn’t think so). For example, Power Rangers. Now I know I only need to watch the end to see Megazord. Granted this is not a replacement for watching the movie, just a way to rearrange your list of what to watch next. Still, such nostalgia.

Don’t forget the second step

Seth Godin

Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do.

Gothic Basin

A preview of what’s to come…

At the top of Gothic Basin

Earworm

Stories

Folded newspaper, cup of coffee, and phone on a wooden table

Some of the articles and podcasts that came through my feeds recently had similar themes. It got me thinking about a few things.

  1. The idea of using misinformation as a way to hack one’s mind and shape one’s view of reality.
  2. How we carry out our lives differently. We surround ourselves with people we like and ideas we agree with.
  3. And after reading of Russia’s influence into the discussions of fake news and alternative facts, when we are all content in our filter bubble (how many buzzwords can I fit into one sentence?), slight white lies that confirm our beliefs go unnoticed.

The Invisibilia podcast episode called The Culture Inside explored feedback in the real world and confirmation bias in what we experience.

COX: Human brains are very good at learning things and not so good at unlearning things.

SPIEGEL: Because of the way that our minds work, it is just much easier for a stereotype to perpetuate itself than to be overturned because to change a concept you need to get extremely consistent feedback that the concept is incorrect. But most of the time we get no feedback at all.

COX: You know, imagine you’re walking around downtown and you see a guy in a pink shirt who’s maybe listening to Britney Spears, maybe talks with a lisp. And often people will see that and what’ll pop to mind is the idea that he’s gay. They’ll make an assumption. Oh, look at that gay guy. But they’re not going to run up to him and ask him, oh, are you gay? I had the thought that you were gay, but I just want to, you know, confirm or disconfirm it.

SPIEGEL: If you instantly found out that the man wasn’t gay, that stereotype wouldn’t gain power. But you don’t, so just the assumption strengthens the stereotype.

COX: The way it gets stored in their memory is that that was a gay guy, that having a pink shirt means he’s gay because that’s how our learning happens. It happens by the activation of these associations.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the deck is kind of stacked in favor of whatever stereotype is already in there.

From an early episode of Better Call Saul (I can’t find the episode, but here’s a montage and reddit post), I posited that in today’s world it is impossible hustle people and too easy to call BS (baloney sandwich). They can simply look up the answer on the internet and believe it as true. But what happens when we run into truthiness and the things we take as fact are not quite so?

This part of the TED Radio Hour Truth and Lies episode about credibility of what we see online makes novel connections between the real world and the web. How to hack your mind, reality, truth, and lies via misinformation on the internet.

The dependence that we have for not just our news but really for how we’re thinking about our collective experience as people and as a country and as a world is just so intensely derived from the Internet right now. Your smartphone is more your reality than walking down the street. So it’s now time to figure out what seems fake, what seems real, why that’s the case. And you don’t yet have the same Spidey feeling or, you know, goosebumps on the back of your neck that you get when you’re walking down the street and there’s a shady character walking down and, you know, you’re not going to trust something that they say or take it at face value. You don’t have that feeling yet on the Internet.

As our realities are increasingly based on the information that we’re consuming at the palm of our hand and from the news feeds that we’re scanning and the hashtags and stories that we see trending, the Russian government was the first to recognize how this evolution had turned your mind into the most exploitable device on the planet. And your mind is particularly exploitable if you’re accustomed to an unfettered flow of information now increasingly curated to your own tastes. This panorama of information that’s so interesting to you gives a state – or anyone, for that matter – a perfect back door into your mind.

It’s this new brand of state-sponsored information operations that can be that much more successful, more insidious and harder for the target audience – that includes the media – to decipher and characterize. If you can get a hashtag trending on Twitter or chum the waters with fake news directed to audiences primed to receive it – all tactics used in Russian operations – then you’ve got a shot at effectively camouflaging your operations in the mind of your target. This is what Russia’s long called reflexive control. It’s the ability to use information on someone else so that they make a decision on their own accord that’s favorable to you.

Ben Thompson discusses truth vs beliefs in his post Not Ok Google:

Deciding how to respond to fake news is a trade-off; in the case of Facebook, the fact that fake news is largely surfaced to readers already inclined to believe it means I see the harm as being less than Facebook actively taking an editorial position on news stores.

Google, on the other hand, is less in the business of driving engagement via articles you agree with, than it is in being a primary source of truth. The reason to do a Google search is that you want to know the answer to a question, and for that reason I have long been more concerned about fake news in search results, particularly “featured snippets”

Facebook may be pushing you news, fake, slanted, or whatever bias there may be, but at least it is not stamping said news with its imprimatur or backing it with its reputation (indeed, many critics wish that that is exactly what Facebook would do), and said news is arriving on a rather serendipitous basis. Google, on the other hand, is not only serving up these snippets as if they are the truth, but serving them up as a direct response to someone explicitly searching for answers. In other words, not only is Google effectively putting its reputation behind these snippets, it is serving said snippets to users in a state where they are primed to believe they are true.

And finally, in The Stories We Tell Ourselves, Todd May discusses the complicated lives we all lead:

Why might this matter? Here is one reason. The presidential election has displayed in stark terms a phenomenon that many have commented on in recent years. With the proliferation of various cable news channels, the internet, niche marketing, clustering in communities of like-minded people, most of us live in echo chambers that reflect the righteousness of our lives back to us. We are reinforced to think of ourselves as embodying the right values, as living in ways that are at least justified, if not superior. Reflecting on the stories we tell about ourselves might reveal to us other aspects of who we are and what we value, aspects that would complicate the simple picture provided by our echo chamber.

And that complication, in turn, could lead us to another revelation: that those who live outside our echo chamber might also be more complicated than we have imagined. While the values we take them to be expressing might be mistaken — or even abhorrent — to us, there are perhaps other aspects to their lives as well, other values those lives express, values that would become manifest to us if we listened to some of the stories they tell about themselves. If we are more complicated than we like to think, perhaps others are also more complicated than we would like to think. (And also more complicated than they would like to think.)

 

Week in Review – August 6, 2017

Stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Meditation and Routine:

I took time this morning to meditate. I noticed I was going to rush to make it to the bus, and decided to wait and take the one leaving 30 minutes later. It was a simple decision that has big impact for the day. I leave in a calmer state and am able to get more done in the morning (at a relaxed pace). If only I would wake up earlier to take advantage of the time with my scheduled routine. My alarm goes off just after 7am and the next 20-25 minutes are spent snoozing and scrolling on my phone. I should re-read my routine post.

 

Readings:

Anil Dash on open space workplaces

via Medium

Anil Dash is not a fan of open offices for programmers. Programmers need to get into a state of flow to focus on the work in front of them and go deep. This is difficult with constant visual and auditory distraction.

At home it is quiet and there is little going on. Because of this I am able to stay focused and get work done. Deep work can come at with a loss to collaboration, but Cal Newport details how deep collaboration can be done.

More on open space at Fog Creek.

1000 True Fans

Kevin Kelly

I read this before,

“A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

but it came up again (via Ryan Holiday)

“So don’t wait. Build your platform now. Build it before your first project, before your first great perennial seller comes out, so that you have a better chance of actually turning it into one. Build it now so that you might create multiple works like that. Build it so you can have a career—so you can be more than just a guy or gal with a book or movie or app. Because you’re more than that. You’re an entrepreneur, an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. You’re a mogul.”

Tuesday’s hard fork of bitcoin

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are fascinating. Some analysis on the bitcoin cash spinoff. I don’t know anything about it him, but I’ll have to read more from Matt Levine.

BCH spun off from BTC on Tuesday afternoon, and briefly traded over $700 on Wednesday (though it later fell significantly). But BTC hasn’t really lost any value since the spinoff, still trading at about $2,700. So just before the spinoff, if you had a bitcoin, you had a bitcoin worth about $2,700. Now, you have a BTC worth about $2,700, and also a BCH worth as much as $700. It’s weird free money, if you owned bitcoins yesterday.

Apple and the Oak Tree

Stratechery

The iPods Shuffle and Nano, the last two iTunes-dependent (i.e. non-iOS) MP3 players Apple sold, were quietly discontinued last Tuesday. The revelation two days later that Apple was, at the behest of the Chinese government, removing VPN apps from the App Store in China, drew considerably more interest

 

Podcasts

Long Distance

Reply All (Ep. 1 and Ep. 2)

Wow. The two part episode lacks closure, but is a captivating detective story that spans the globe.

 

danah boyd — The Internet of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On Being with Krista Tippett

 

“Even the most fleeting acquaintance with the history of information and communication technologies indicates that moral panics are episodic and should be taken with a grain of salt.”

 

danah boyd on why fake news is so easy to believe

The Ezra Klein Show

 

“Give me more kale”

These interviews are so similar, it’s almost as if they are with the same person. Still, each interviewer provides their own color. Tippett takes a more human approach while Klein focuses on the news, but both are searching for truth

 

 

Interactive thingy

The Evolution of Trust

Nicky Case

“We are punished by our sins, not for them.”

~ Elbert Hubbard

Almost as cool as the game. The history of making it: https://github.com/ncase/trust/commits/gh-pages

 

Movies

 

Earworms

 

Seeking to Become

Eye glasses, notebook, pencil, and postcards, and camera on a map

You may be the average of the five people you spend the most time with [1], but more so, today, you are the product of who you were yesterday and the day before [2]. “The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.” [3]

So, who are you seeking to become?

If you like who you are today, keep doing what you are doing. But if you want to change, work to retool the habits which defined you up until this point. You don’t have to appease social norms of being the same person you were yesterday. Buck the tread and become who you want to be. (Do you believe people can change? [4]) Fight club and Tyler Durden show that resetting can be the impetus for your new, desired self to take hold. You don’t have to set fire to all your possessions, but find what brings joy to your life [5] . Don’t let your possessions own you  [6]. “If you can’t afford to lose it, you can’t afford it to buy it yet” [7]. So as spring rolls around here in the US, what cleaning will you be find? How will you shed your skin to let your new self shine?

Just connecting some things I came across recently. Here’s a non-chronological list:

[1] “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”  – Jim Rohn
[2] Change Making Problem – Wikipedia
[3] Who are we seeking to Become – Seth Godin
[4] The Personality Myth – Invisibilia
[5] Life Changing Magic of Tidying up – Marie Kondo
[6] “The things you used to own, now they own you” – Fight Club
[7] Mr. Money Mustache – The New Yorker

Perspective

Here’s a story from a TED talk on perspective:

A man walks into a bank in Watsonville, California. And he says, “Give me $2,000, or I’m blowing the whole bank up with a bomb.”

Now, the bank manager didn’t give him the money. She took a step back. She took his perspective, and she noticed something really important. He asked for a specific amount of money.

So she said, “Why did you ask for $2,000?”

And he said, “My friend is going to be evicted unless I get him $2,000 immediately.”

And she said, “Oh! You don’t want to rob the bank — you want to take out a loan.”

“Why don’t you come back to my office, and we can have you fill out the paperwork.”

Challenge your perspective and don’t make assumptions.

Quoted from Adam Galinsky: How to speak up for yourself
https://embed.ted.com/talks/adam_galinsky_how_to_speak_up_for_yourself

Journal

One year and three months ago I wrote this in my journal:

“I want to start writing more for my blog. I am going to start by making an effort to sit down for five minutes (at least) and note what I am thinking about. Time seems to fly by lately. It would be enlightening to have a journal of past events to look back and remember what was going on in my life.”

In that time, I’ve amassed quite the collection of musings. I thought journaling would naturally overflow into blogging, and while it hasn’t yet turned out that way, the practice allows me to focus and make sense of things. Today I began reading what I wrote. We’ll see what comes of it, but I’m already happily surprised and excited to continue.

If you want to connect thoughts in your head, remember events in your life, or track growth over time, take a snapshot. Write it down. Make the nebulous, physical. As time passes, you can go back and reflect.

Three Questions

“Remember then: there is only one time that is important– Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

From Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Empathy

“If you believed what he believes, you’d do precisely what he’s doing.

Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time.

Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort.”

-Seth Godin, Empathy is difficult